Thursday, February 11, 2016

Outline

Outline

When a novel has been nominated for so many awards, it seems like a good decision to borrow it from the library:

Scotiabank Giller Prize - Shortlisted

Governor General's Literary Award - Fiction - Shortlisted

International Dublin Literary Award - Longlisted

Selected for the New York Times' 10 Best Books of 2015

Selected for New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2015

Selected for the National Post's 99 Best Books of 2015

Selected for the Globe and Mail's Best Books of 2015

Selected for Vogue's 10 Best Books of 2015

Selected for NPR's Guide to 2015's Great Reads

Admittedly, there was some controversy about Cusk's novel, Outline, being nominated for two of Canada's foremost literary awards because, although born in Canada, she lived most of her childhood in Los Angeles and moved to/has lived in the UK since the age of 7. Not much Canadian there, just a birthright, but enough to get on the big literary lists and deservedly so, in my opinion, because Outline is a case of stellar writing. 

If you would like an example of good prose is, pick up this book. Outline leaves in its wake seven previous novels and three non-fiction works, so Cusk is certainly an experienced writer. I would also suggest that she has an outstanding editor and, together, the two have created the magic of Outline

With not a lot of action, it's not the tale itself that's exciting. We know very little about the main character, a woman, whom we first meet on an airplane, striking up a conversation with her "neighbour". Our narrator, a writer, on her way to Athens to conduct a writing workshop, is a skilled listener, and through her conversations with others, we gain insights into their characters.

The wonderful thing about this book is the writing itself - articulate and luminous. How about this paragraph, for example.

She leaned closer, scrutinising the place where his finger pointed, while his eyes fixed themselves on her face, which was young and beautiful, with long ringlets of hair on either side which she kept tucking behind her ears. Because he was pointing at something that wasn't there her bewilderment was long-lasting, and in the end she said she would have to go and get her manager, at which point he closed the menu like a teacher finishing a lesson and said not to worry, he would just have an ordinary beer after all. This change of plan confused her further: the menu was opened again and the whole lesson repeated, and I found my attention straying to the people at other tables and out to the street, where cars passed and dogs lay in heaps of fur in the glare.

Three sentences, but what sentences! And what judicious use of punctuation. This is a writing style that I really enjoy.

The Country Life

I liked Outline so much that I signed Cusk's previous novel, The Country Life, out of the library and, no surprise, found the same kind of stellar writing. The main character in this book, Stella, is an introspective young woman who, without telling them why or where she's going, leaves her urban London family, job and husband and takes the train "to the country" to become a helper for a disabled teenage boy, living with his wealthy family. We, the readers, are the lucky onlookers as she wades through her insecurities, culture shock and ill-considered decisions. It's a rollicking ride and wonderful entertainment.